Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Thoughts on the Occupy Movement

The other day on KPFA I finally heard someone speak the truth. He said that for Blacks in the South (and elsewhere in this country), the American Dream has always been the American Nightmare. He said that the only reason we are having all these "Occupies" is because White people are finally having their dreams smashed. White youth can't get jobs despite their college degrees. They have big student loans they can't pay. They believe that their dreams will not come true. People of color have always been in this boat...and no one cared. According to this guy, the people in the streets are upset because they will not become rich like the 1%. Feeling entitled, they are angry because it will not happen.

Although I an not officially a woman of color, I too, have felt outside the restaurant looking in because I am 'not white enough.' Coming from a bilingual, bi cultural southern European family, and looking 'ethnic' has put me in a no-man's-land of not being a minority and thus eligible for special programs, but being treated like one in many ways. I have not gotten jobs I was qualified for because they had to hire a minority despite the fact that the person was not at all qualified. I once dated a man for a short time, who broke it off because I was 'too ethnic looking' and he could not completely accept me.

For me the dream has been the American Fantasy. I am educated. I have a Masters degree, nearly 2, in fact, and worked on a doctorate. I have certificates, credentials and a lot of training. I have not gotten jobs because I was 'overqualified'. On the other hand, since a couple of my degrees were at State Universities rather than private or Ivy-league schools, I have been considered 'not as smart' as others. I worked my way through college and finished my masters with no debt. But this is what 'working class' people do....not the rich. I have been looked-down on for that. My academic advisor in my doctoral program said I did not have my 'priorities straight' when I told her I had to work full-time rather than working on my dissertation. She did not understand that there were no parents or spouse supporting me.

I have basically been 'under-employed' for 22 years. While I may have been working, I was a seasonal, temporary, or part-time person at California Department of Parks and Recreation for 7 years, at the U.S.
Postal Service for 7 years.....Thus, no benefits, no retirement, no security. When I got hit by a truck and could no longer deliver mail, they terminated me. I was often the second choice at a interview. But since there was only one position, second was not good enough.

Capitalism has always been a system where a few people make money off the backs of others...slaves or low-wage earners. Globalization is not new either. Capitalists have always sought the cheapest source of
goods, the lowest labor costs....the ever-growing market. It doesn't mean it's right. Every so often, the folks rebel. Things change a little, but because the capitalists control the sources of all things the folks need...protests don't last long or are squashed. In the past, the protesters were simply killed. End of protest. Capitalists shrugged their shoulders and carried on.

I have been listening to the radio which has been covering all the 'Occupy' events. Many people speak about how great it is that 'people are working together, feeding each other, taking care of medical and housing needs'. Well, we'll see how long this lasts. The diversity that exists in this culture means that we do not share the same values. In fact, this is the area where there the most diversity. Sharing and giving only works over time, when people have integrity. If they eat for free, they do something in return - child care, cleaning, helping out in some way. But in this country, few people have integrity.

Individuals need to examine themselves. Could they function without their iPads, cars, expensive bikes, Whole Foods....? Living in the land of privilege and is a 'lark' to protest - be out there in the streets with the homeless. Just like most of the 'hippies' that arrived in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, they had their trust funds behind them. They had their safety net. They could just cut their hair, take a bath, change clothes and go home. My friends and I, coming from working class backgrounds, knew that if we quit our jobs at the car wash and hitchhiked to SF we would probably die in the street. No one would/could rescue us.

Now, many of those 'hippies' are wealthy entrepreneurs, business owners etc. They used their parents' money and property to build organic farms, herb schools, healing centers, and other types of 'alternative'
businesses. Fine. Good use of the money. Better than other choices. But make no mistake. They came from people with money. They were not working class or poor. Today they are famous and well-off. They still
run things. Now they use 'interns' to do the work free. It is not called slavery anymore because they volunteer for it.

How many of the people in the streets today HAVE to be there because they have no other choice? How about taking the homeless home? Rather than playing at being homeless....true caring would be to bring them
home. Have them live with you in your house - FREE. See how long that would last. Hanging out with the homeless in the street for awhile is one thing, but truly helping them by giving them your bed is another.

Examine your conscience. What is the TRUTH? Are you really living hand-to-mouth? Why? Don't get me wrong...I know the 1% controls this country and the world. But I am not stupid. I have always known this.
It is not a big surprise. Can it change? Not sure and have no idea what it would look like. Forty years ago, I set my priorities. I am living with the choices I made. And it is not easy. My conscience is clear. I know I did not cause the problems in the world. I have lived close to the bottom "so I would not have far to fall" when things got worse. I knew this day was coming.

History shows us that there has almost always been economic disparity - coinciding with the concept of private property. And that occurred when people developed agriculture and men realized they had something
to do with procreation. When men knew they helped make a baby and started accumulating stuff due to settled life and agriculture, they wanted to keep their stuff - women, children and cows.Women were considered chattel until about 150 years ago in the West. A man's property. I don't know enough about the rest of the world, but I suspect it's not that different. By controlling women and their issue, they passed their stuff on to their sons. Amassing more and more wealth in a family.

This has been going on for at least 5000 years, maybe more. So....the job of 'changing things' is a big one. It is programmed into our genes. In fact, our genetic makeup probably is directly connected to this idea of private property. 'Survival of the fittest' is/was the battle cry of the robber barons at the beginning of the 20th century and Wall Street types today.

Of course, if/when Mother Earth has her turn, the 'fittest' may be defined differently. Perhaps the most resilient and resourceful will be the survivors. Probably the homeless. They already know how to survive with nothing.

To see what else I'm up to go to my herb blog   my astrology blog  and my 2012 blog

Monday, October 10, 2011

In honor of my 100th post on this blog - for love of learning

Recently I did a talk on the Maya at the local museum as part of a series on 2012. It was the most well- attended of all the presentations - nearly 70 people came, crowding in to a small stuffy room to hear the about ancient Maya inscriptions etc.

Apparently an ex-President of the Museum had a fit about it. I was asked by the current President, to write a letter to the local newspaper about my perspective on the role of a museum.

One of the attributes of a vital museum in a community is that it responds to the needs and interests of that community. Look at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco - the de Young and the Legion of Honor. In an effort to serve their community, they have instituted free evenings on major exhibits so that they serve not
only their members who can afford to attend and support events, but also the working class and poor who cannot.

Even exhibits which normally cost up to 25.00 are free on Friday nights. Why? Are they losing money doing this? Well, if the health of the museum depends on the community, people will not support something they don't value. Not being able to go to museums because they are too expensive or cater to a select few, people will not care for them, allocate funds for them or set priorities in their favor. If they don't matter, they will cease to exist.

My mother started taking me to museums when I was quite young. For me, the old de Young was like church. What I learned there led to nearly all the things I have do and have done in my life. I developed an interest in other cultures, which led to degrees in Anthropology and Linguistics, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer
in Zaire, teaching English as a Second Language to Vietnamese refugees.

I loved the old exhibits they had on women's fashion through the ages, which led to my hobbies: knitting, embroidery, crocheting and sewing. As a teenager, I made all my own clothes. These days, I donate my creations to charity.

I loved the room exhibits at the old de Young where they reconstructed whole rooms taken from historic buildings. I was fascinated by furniture, textiles, carpets, ceramics...all of it.

While working at the Office of Preservation at the Library of Congress and pursuing a degree in Rare Book Librarianship at Catholic University, I studied Museum Conservation at the Smithsonian. This led to an interest in Museum Curatorship.

Later, while working at the California Department of Parks and Recreation, I worked on the exhibits at the Petaluma Adobe, the Benicia Capitol and Fischer-Hanlon House, the Vallejo Home and Jack London State Historic Park. My eclectic interests and skills were stimulated and fostered by museum exhibits and programs. They often led me to pursue more training.

While living in Washington, D.C. I was a Smithsonian Associate. I took classes in book-binding, paper making, calligraphy. I developed skills I have used throughout my professional and personal life.  I was able to design and write my own wedding invitations using Copperplate script. Later as a graduate student at Tulane University I worked on the illustrations for a book by one of my professors on Mayan Hieroglyphs because I had developed skills gained through these museum programs.

While a doctoral student at Tulane, I worked as Director of Educational Programs at the Maritime Museum in New Orleans.

To summarize: Museums have an important role to play in the education process. For seniors they provide entertainment, recreation, socialization. For adults, they serve as a source of continuing education. For children they are in the unique position to shape young minds in immeasurable ways. You can never know
how a child's mind will be stimulated leading to careers, hobbies, volunteer activities, and recreation.

If the Petaluma Museum hopes to be seen as a vital, progressive source of experience and educational opportunities, it must be willing to provide diverse opportunities.

Tradition has its value, and believe me, no one values history more than I do - I worked at several State Historic Parks, developing exhibits and programs and training docents, but the Petaluma Museum has a wider role. Otherwise, it would still house the old library. It's founder, Andrew Carnegie, saw the need for
continuing community education, when he established the system of libraries throughout the State of California. The library outgrew the facility which was then given a new role. Ultimately, the Petaluma Museum could/should outgrow the building. But, in order to expand, its vision has to expand.

The unique history of Petaluma is fascinating. I worked at Olompali SHP which was part of the chicken farming history of the area. This should not be overlooked or forgotten. It has its place in local history. Permanent exhibits on that topic are appropriate. But in order to expand membership, bring in more
visitors, generate income and fulfill its role as an educational institution, the Museum has to be willing to respond to a diversity of needs and interests. This can be accomplished through programs such as the Speakers Program, visiting exhibits etc. on a diversity of topics.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Museum Hopping by the Bay

One of my friends took me to an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "The Steins Collect Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde." A collection of paintings and sculpture collected by the Stein family at the beginning of the 20th century. The exhibit included writings, furniture, photographs and personal effects of the family. I learned that Gertrude Stein (before she was famous) and her siblings had moved to Paris, began buying art from then unknowns and displaying it in their home. Eventually they had to expand to three apartments, since each sibling collected different artists and there was no more room to display it all in one place. They opened their homes to the 'public' to show the paintings and hosted salons of those interested in discussing art etc. Clearly they had the money to move from the Bay Area to Paris, buy the art and show it...they did not have to work at anything else. Eventually they became artists and writers and famous themselves.

What they bought was considered outrageous and worthless at the time, but somehow they understood the significance it would someday have. Now.. the art they collected is priceless.

They did it because they were fascinated with it...because at the time it was of no value at all. In fact, they helped to make it famous so much so that within a few years, they could no longer afford it themselves. They popularized the art to such an extent they priced themselves out of the market.

The family, once close, develop schisms, partly due to their ideas about art, partly due to Gertrude's relationship with Alice B. Toklas, which did not fit into the Victorian ideas that were still extant in society.

Their collections became the basis for collections of many art museums. They had a huge impact on the modern art movement. Among the artists they collected at an early stage: Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and others.

The exhibit runs until September 6. It's a huge exhibit, so be prepared for hours of viewing or multiple visits. I could not see it all nor take it all in at one time. Have to go again.

The next day we went to the Oakland Museum. We happened to be there for the member's only preview of the John Muir exhibit. Another day of revelation. Just out of sheer interest and love, John Muir studied the Yosemite Valley and parts of Alaska, collecting plant and animal samples, making incredible drawings, writing his journals, recording information of all types. It appears he was on a spiritual quest, with Nature as his guru.

As per the Oakland Museum's mission, there were many opportunities to do 'hands on' activities. You could try to draw birds, record your own and listen to others' reactions to the exhibit. For me, one delightful addition to the exhibit that I have NEVER seen before, was aromatherapy! They actually had the scents of the individual plants, the forest and other natural settings. Push a button and smell the woods, the trees, the meadow etc. A wonderful addition. Another special feature of the exhibit is that you can listen to the recorded sounds of birds and other wildlife. There were places where you can take pictures of yourself 'climbing a mountain' or 'scaling a glacier" then email the picture to yourself.

What struck me about both these exhibits of 'famous' people, is that they did what they did out of love for the thing itself. For it's own sake. Not to be rich or famous. That was not their intent. There was no guarantee that anything would come of it. They didn't care about that - they did it anyway. Today people need guarantees. They need to know that any action they take with be 'successful'. Hence, they don't do things for the sheer love of the activity. They want to 'make money' 'be famous' 'be successful' and rarely follow their dreams or their heart. Often people reach old age after years of work and a modicum of financial stability feeling their lives have been a waste because they never did what they wanted to do.

How many people collect unpopular art because they like it? Or hike into wilderness recording everything they see because they love nature and want to understand it?

Most of us live lives of "quiet desperation" (Thoreau) rather than what Jack London aspired towards:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather
that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze
than it should be stifled by dryrot.
I would rather be a superb meteor,
every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Looking at Jack London's life, we can see that he walked his talk. Let us dare to do something because we love other reason. Let us not be satisfied with mere existing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Were They Thinking?

I find it completely insane that a country which suffered first hand the negative effects of atomic power, ever even considered relying on nuclear energy on an island whose history has been one of recurrent earthquakes and volcanoes. What were they thinking?

No, I don't think they deserve it or any such thing. It just goes to show how greedy and short-sighted the corporations have become. For surely, it was some corporation with its power to control the government and the people, which suggested and pushed through this construction that now threatens millions.

This proves that we have truly lost our way. Capitalism and the endless search for markets, products and profits is completely bankrupt. Now the infrastructures are collapsing. The ocean was ruined last year by BP, now the air will be tainted with nuclear fall-out. Where will it end?

I did hear something encouraging this morning on KPFA. Germany and France are voluntarily shutting down their older nuclear power plants so that they can be inspected BEFORE they fail. Imagine!

The title of Naomi Klein's book "Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" says it all. Corporations and even governments have figured out how to make money from disaster. Rather than 'losing it all', like we do, they continue to cash in. We need to put a stop to this.

We have arrived at a point where we don't fix anything until it fails. It's like never having your brakes serviced, then having an accident where you run over a child. Oops! We can do better than that. with so many people out of work, the government could do like they did in the Great Depression and hire people to repair the infrastructure, install alternative energy equipment (solar, wind). I heard that one week of the money we spend on the wars would take care of all the deficits.

When there is a disaster, people unite to help each other. We need to unite before the disaster, to prevent it.
Let's learn to be proactive, not reactive. We will feel so much better about ourselves.